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August 26, 2009 > Back to School The Green Way

Back to School The Green Way

By Dave Cortese, Santa Clara County Supervisor

As your county supervisor, I have taken an environmental focus here at the county. We have introduced new Environmental Stewardship Goals and we have created the Cortese Climate Kids Club (for more information about our kids club and how your children can join, visit my website at www.supervisorcortese.org). Being environmentally responsible is something everyone should strive for, and this includes getting the kids ready to go back to school.

Normally the routine is the same: ensuring their clothes fit and are clean and presentable, checking the backpack to make sure it can carry another year's worth of textbooks, and heading to the office supply store to pick up any school supplies that they might need for the next year. This year, I encourage you to take a look at how you can make going back to school more environmentally friendly.

One of the easiest changes to make would happen when you prepare your kid's lunches. While the average person doesn't think about where waste goes after the garbage man picks it up, our waste is a serious issue with landfills running out of space and contaminants leaking out of the landfills that we do have. A straightforward way to be more environmentally friendly is to simply use reusable containers and utensils for your kid's lunches.

Brown paper bags, while not completely unfriendly, still add volume to our waste stream. A better method is to use a reusable lunch bag or pail and put the sandwiches or leftovers in a reusable container that they can bring home every night. And while you're at it, throw in a set of metal utensils for them to eat with. While single use items do have some benefits for specific circumstances, you can teach your kids to think about their impact on the environment by explaining to them why it is better to bring the reusable containers and utensil home every night rather than throwing more plastic and bags into the garbage.

Due to the nature of the beast, school supplies like paper and pencils can only be used once. But you can minimize the harm to the environment through buying recycled content items and ensuring that after they have served their useful life, they are recycled. Recycled paper, notebooks and folders are becoming commonplace, but there are two key points to keep in mind when purchasing them; recycled content is good, but post-consumer recycled content is even better, and secondly, be sure to keep the cycle going and put the product in the recycling bin (after the assignments have been completed of course).

Pens and pencils that are refillable are also better for the environment since you can reuse the utensil itself and just fill it up with more ink or lead instead of throwing the entire unit away when its usefulness ends.

Solar calculators have been around for years, but the benefits are still real. They can be used for many school years without needing a battery replacement, since they don't have batteries. And that means less toxic chemicals that need to be recycled; you know you're not supposed to throw batteries in the trash, right?

Lastly, this is the perfect time to get in the habit of walking or biking with your kid to school. Not only will you save money on gas and reduce the pollution you create, but you will also improve your health through increased activity and at the same time be able to provide education to your child on the importance of staying active. It's a win-win.

These are just a few ideas, but I'm sure that there are many more that you can think of. They don't just apply to getting kids ready to go back to school, too. These tips can easily be transferred to working professionals, college going students, etc. For example, my office was recently certified as a "Green Business" by the Association of Bay Area Government's Green Business Program (www.greenbiz.abag.ca.gov) for conserving energy and water, minimizing waste, preventing pollution and shrinking our carbon footprint. Even if you can't make all these changes, just trying a few and thinking about what else you can do while involving your child in making the effort will make a world of a difference, no pun intended.

If you have any other ideas that you can think of, or if you have any other questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me at dave.cortese@bos.sccgov.org or (408) 299-5030. Together, as a community, we can make a difference.

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